I suggested while Matt and I were chatting on Facebook that he write about my adventure and he insisted that I should, which feels odd even now. It’s surreal in some ways, like the accent that the very talented Russell Crowe used in Man of Steel where he more than fills the shoes of Marlon Brando from the first Superman movie all those years ago.
My journey into film land started around 1994. I was working in sports in Montreal running the largest Hockey Card show in the city, booking the guys for appearances, working for a hockey card company, travelling with the Legends Hockey team, and finally creating a video tracking and stat conversion system for the Habs; but I was turning 30.
I had always written. It’s always been my passion. I wanted as my gift to myself to take my best crack at Screenwriting. So I folded my sports tent, rented an old warehouse space in St. Henri in Montreal, and wrote, and wrote….and had a really good time.
I wrote 11 feature screenplays by the time I’d stuck my head up for air. Most were really bad. 🙂
I landed an agent in Toronto on my first try at Westwood Creative before moving on to Sanjay Burman & Carl Liberman at The Characters. I wrote this screenplay that was getting buzz called Bingo the Monkey Girl. It was about a deformed girl in a WW2 era Carnival.
Off to LA I went in 1996. That mean Rejean Houle stiffed me on my last Habs cheque refusing to pay me full time during the playoffs when I was working near 24/7. Back then I’d get some VHS tape and have to crunch it all night and have 30 page reports ready for 6 AM where they’d usually only look at the summary cover sheet. I think the Habs have been cursed since. Never rip off a Romanian Jew 🙂
LA was awesome. I was researching a few pieces, chiefly on Silent film Queen Mabel Normand. Everything bad and good people say about LA was true. I was such a rookie. I found a great place near Pico & Robertson which was really central. I remember taking a meeting with Robert Kosberg who’d produced a Schwarzenegger movie. He liked a pitch and asked for more. I gave him a package of 30 pitches. Ah to be naive and in Hollywood.
At a 12 step meeting I met one Stuart Sender. He was like a Big Brother to me; really nurturing. We met at a meeting especially for Artists and people in the biz.
Stuart read some of my stuff and fell in love with a treatment I’d written called Herr Direktor, about German all around performer Kurt Gerron. Apparently Stuart’s dad had seen Kurt perform Three Penny Opera in Berlin. (Kurt was the first Mack the Knife) The irony was that the Nazis forced Gerron, a film director, to shoot a doc about how well they had treated the Jews before feeding Gerron and over 1,600 people to the ovens in Auschwitz. Gerron had also starred in the Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich.
I agreed to co-produce and turn Herr Direktor into a doc, and Stuart brought in the talented Malcolm Clarke who’d won an Oscar to direct.
Steven Spielberg wrote the first cheque, $130K. I remember having to field a frantic call from Stuart as Malcolm was having a huge poolside argument with Syd Sheinberg, Spielberg’s mentor, over whether Hedy Lamarr was still alive. (She was and was suing Corel at the time for their using her image on one of their Draw box)
But like many Second Acts of Hollywood stories there was a conflict. Stuart starting acting weird and 5 lawyers, agents, and managers later I ended up being pushed nearly out of my own creation and downgraded to associate producer. Stuart got to have his trains and turn Herr Direktor into a Holocaust piece which it really wasn’t. At Oscar time in 2003 Prisoner of Paradise was nominated for best feature documentary. I had the right to pull the nomination; but chose not to because there were a lot of good people that worked on that project. It still had a lot of “me” in it, and in this world something you created in the film biz may never get that shot again.
I watched on TV as Stuart & Malcolm were used by Michael Moore in his political Anti-Bush stunt. Malcolm later told me they never knew what Mr. Moore was doing. In Hollywood they never give two Holocaust projects big trophies in the same year. If it wasn’t for The Pianist we’d probably have won.
The funny thing though was that Mr. Spielberg had his name pulled from Prisoner of Paradise and almost every trace of his support removed. Odd?
It also turned out that Stuart’s wife, Julie Sender Bergman, had been a Senior Exec for Egg Pictures, Jodie Foster’s company. Sure enough during this process I had been called into Egg to pitch to Meg Lefauve who had worked under….Julie. It was odd as we never contacted Egg to pitch and Stuart himself drove me to the meeting.
While the pitch went nowhere Jodie’s next directorial announcement was to shoot something called Flora Plum.
A penniless girl in the 1930’s is taken in by a circus freak, and even as he falls in love with her, she begins to launch a career in the circus herself.
Jodie had Russell Crowe at his peak, the legendary Meryl Streep, and Claire Danes as Flora while she still had some heat.
A simple reverse of rolls. An All About Eve retake of Bingo the Monkey Girl. I actually had people calling and congratulating me which is how I found out about Flora Plum.
They had even kept the same deformity! Only thing was Egg had not negotiated with me other than the Pitch meeting with Meg which was not for Bingo the Monkey Girl.
Four of the largest law firms in Beverly Hills were willing to take the open and shut case, but all wanted far larger retainers than struggling writer’s could afford. The fact that all were willing was huge. I had the option of fast and easy contingency lawyers; but I didn’t go to LA to sue people like Jodie Foster.
Her lawyer, Matt Saver sent us a letter claiming that Flora was bought as a pitch in ’97 with a first draft in ’98. Bingo was written in ’94 and in play ’96 the year Stuart, and Jodie’s head of production’s husband had the script in their home.
Ms Foster could never get E&O insurance for Flora Plum. With a slashed budget and even Luc Besson trying to set the project up for her in Europe, the project could never get off the ground. Mr. Crowe left to do A Beautiful Mind which he won an Oscar for. He was said to be replaced by Ewen McGregor.
Egg Pictures folded and Jodie didn’t get to direct for a long time. Why Jodie never tried to buy Bingo? I was told by a powerful lawyer that at that point a conversation could be considered an act of liability or admittance of some legal term.
Mr. Spielberg you ask? Well one of the documents Stuart had of mine was my pitch for the next Indiana Jones movie. I had never even tried pitching it. It was for fun, an exercise. A few of the key elements, bringing back Karen Allen for example, were in the dreadful movie made with the delightful Cate Blanchett as the Russian villain. I still don’t get why they chose to not take one more kick at the can with the Nazi’s as the chronology worked.
In my treatment I had Indy have a daughter called Junior, not a son. At the time I was thinking Drew Barrymore with long hair and a whip playing some incredible father daughter scenes with Harry, and I had a Lawrence of Arabia opening with Drew riding the motorcycle, but not crashing. I brought in Abner Ravenwood. It was a fun romp.
Of course Stuart going to synagogue with Mr. Spielberg and Steven’s cheque to Prisoner of Paradise do cast a cloud over the scenario and as any Hollywood law firm will tell you; it’s not against the law to steal an idea; just the expression of it; unless there was malfeasance.
Honestly in both cases, Bingo and Raiders, I don’t think anyone knew they were buying stolen goods.
My second credit; for my amigo Ian Thuillier, his first documentary Darkroom, was nominated for an Irish Oscar. I had learned the answer to the question I asked for my 30th birthday way back in 1994. I felt I was good enough for Hollywood; but the business side of it was too toxic for me.
I like so many others retreated from the biz. Having your work stolen isn’t a lot of fun. I still dabbled; have over 300 pitches and treatments locked away; some of them really good too; a handful probably awesome.
Now I write reviews occasionally and am still a passionate storyteller. I still get occasional calls trying to lure me back the biz, and will probably return as the internet and new forms of distribution make it easier to create, and as lucrative as the film biz was what was the good of it if the creators never got to really share in the millions and billions? Writing nearly 7,000 pieces here on CFN really has sharpened my tool.
I interviewed Mark Hamill and the Sushi Girl crowd last year at Fantasia and it was a blast. I missed the energy of making film and working in a team with talented and passionate people. It’s what I miss most about filmmaking. If I do go back it’s a big reason why.
As for Man of Steel? Amy Adams nose gives me a big boner. She’s one of our most talented actresses and a total hottie. She was underused in almost every form in Man of Steel which seemed more about big explosions than anything else.
Of course as a writer I always favor character and story over BIG EXPLOSIONS. Sadly for me the people behind Man of Steel favor the latter.
I saw it at an old school Drive In instead of a Megaplex! I found Man of Steel not terribly suited for kids. There were some very dark themes. It was good to see Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. I like Larry and the Matrix connection to some of the themes was apparent.
Kevin Costner was ok as the dad and the always delightful Diane Lane of my youth played Clark Kent’s mom. Which ties me back to that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon for me. Who opened the envelope in full gown on Oscar night back in 2003? Diane Lane. And that moment, when they open the Oscar envelope, unless you know the results in advance, is magical even if you don’t win.
Henry Cavill, who was in the Tudors, delivered the beef as Clark Kent, but he made the late Christopher Reeve’s performance in the 1978 version look like Shakespeare as they just gave him so very little to do character wise.
Man of Steel is a popcorn movie with a lot of yelling and explosions. It’s fast paced and packs a lot of bits and bobs in from the canon of Superman instead of focusing on the telling of a story which after all movie making is really about.
Telling a good story.
I give Man of Steel 3 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.
I give going to the Drive In 5 out of 5 boxes of corn!
Have you seen Man of Steel yet? What do you think? You can post your comment below.